The Start of the Web

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Ever gone looking for the end of the Internet? It's not hard to find.. turns out there's dozens of ends. Which makes sense really, since the web is by definition nonlinear.. it's more of a mish-meshy, hydra sorta thing that's forever expanding. To make your very own "end" though, just create a page with absolutely no outgoing links. Ta-da.


Beginnings

A better trick is finding the beginning of the Internet. Well.. it's still there!

Over the years, servers moved around, systems were reformatted, files were lost... history became legend, legend became myth and for two and a half decades, the first page passed out of all knowledge until, when chance came in 2013, it was rehosted at its original domain. But probably not on Tim Berners-Lee's original NeXT machine. 😏

Check it out, in all its simplified simplicity, including a list of people at CERN who were developing the WorldWideWeb project, some help docs, a list of other servers connected to this early "web", etc. I can't believe they hung on to them.. I can't even find my first website, and I know I saved it somewhere...

It's.. quaint, how few servers there were in the beginning. Most of them seem to be lost forever, but the Internet Archive crawled some before they disappeared, such as:

There were also attempts, pre modern search engines obviously, to manually index the entirety of the web. One attempt was Netscape's Open Directory Project, whose goal was to "produce the most comprehensive directory of the web by relying on a vast army of volunteer editors".


Good Intentions

It strikes me, looking at that list of servers, that the beginning of the web was full of good intentions. Scientists, engineers, professors.. universities, science labs... the WorldWideWeb project was supposed to be bring together all kinds of centers of learning.

From a 1995 talk by Berners-Lee, called Hypertext and Our Collective Destiny:

I had (and still have) a dream that the web could be less of a television channel and more of an interactive sea of shared knowledge. I imagine it immersing us as a warm, friendly environment made of the things we and our friends have seen, heard, believe or have figured out.

I would like it to bring our friends and colleagues closer, in that by working on this knowledge together we can come to better understandings. If misunderstandings are the cause of many of the world's woes, then can we not work them out in cyberspace. And, having worked them out, we leave for those who follow a trail of our reasoning and assumptions for them to adopt, or correct.

Unfortunately, it's far outgrown that early vision, morphing into something that at times is vitriolic and ugly, used for exploitation or maliciousness. Don't blame the tool - it was as inevitable as the human spirit. How people use it reflects what's already in their hearts, and there's a lot of good on the web too.


Learn More

To learn more about the beginnings of the 'Net, start with the birth of the web. You can also run the WorldWideWeb browser from your browser - browserception!

For about a year after the first website was made available again in 2013, there was a pretty concerted effort to restore and maintain archives of a lot of software and hardware related to the same timeframe, which you can read about here.

Then check out the origins of the NIKHEF site and a personal account by Willem van Leeuwen, stories of the first webpages created at UNC, and even the original 1989 proposal for the web!

Author

Grant Winney

I write when I've got something to share - a personal project, a solution to a difficult problem, or just an idea. We learn by doing and sharing. We've all got something to contribute.


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